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The Game Of The Name by Nigel Roth

Mis à jour : mars 2


Back in the day, I worked with a design agency whose director’s first name was Merriman. At the time I thought this quite odd and slightly funny, but his work was great and we had a good beer together on at least one occasion.

I’d forgotten about Merriman altogether until I was searching for a translator for some work in Eastern Europe, and discovered Ivana Mandic. I’m sure she does fabulous translating, based on her reviews, but what a name.

And so, being on a train for the next seven hours with nothing to do but look at Ohio, I decided to investigate the oddities of the name-world and their impact on the namee.

And if I didn’t hit the jackpot right away; the case of Adolf Hitler Campbell was the top headline of that particular day.

Campbell’s moniker, which Walmart refused to decorate a cake with, is unfortunate. He didn’t choose his name, his crazy Nazi-loving parents did. He is the product of their lunacy and will have to live with it or change it.

But, how important is a name?

When Barack Obama was elected it was during a moment of extreme Musliphobia catalyzed by a deathly fear of Islamic extremism. And yet, with an Arabic middle-name and a family name just a mistype away from the world’s most-wanted terrorist, he still won.

Professor James Bruning, of Ohio University, which I probably passed on my uneventful Amtrak trip, says that often we semiologically associate names with a set of skills.

For example, he says that Asians are thought to be exceptionally good at mathematics, Germans good with engineering, and Greeks good at finance. So, was Obama’s election a case of a negative association with a positive twist? Maybe the real reason Obama was elected was that, as the American philosophy had become to fight fire with fire and to attack when attacked, the nation associated Obama with Osama and hoped he’d have similar traits, but use them positively, a bit like Harry Potter against JK Rowling.

Alternatively, it could’ve been the fact that the opposing camp consisted of an old man and a living brain-donor.

But I digress, as Mr. Clemens would say.

Professor Bruning also writes that we tend to associate specific names with a person’s perceived ability to do a job. At the time, he gave the world’s fastest sprinter Usain Bolt, as a prime example.

But, what of the other superfast sprinters in history?

Tyson Gay, doesn’t sound like particuelry fast. Then there’s Asafa Powell, Maurice Greene (who I think used to be my dentist), Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin, Leroy Burrell, Olusoji Fasuba, and Carl Lewis; none of whom have a name which even remotely resembles anything particularly fast. Justin Gatlin is in the top flight, and his second name is the same as a gun used by the Union forces during the American Civil War, but hardly what you’d call lightning-like.

Did the famous Harrold Ballitch invent ‘Tough-actin’ Tinactin’? No, he became an ophthalmologist. And, did Rusty Kuntz study geriatric gynecology? No, of course not; he became an outfielder for the Chicago White Sox, the Minnesota Twins, and the Detroit Tigers.

So, maybe people don’t have names that particularly match certain professions. Most Smiths probably don’t actually make anything anymore; Coopers aren’t the barrel-makers of the new era; and, Shakespeares no longer hurl pointy objects.